Julia Johnson

Founder of Women's Emerging Issues Policy Forum (WEIPF),
board member of FirstEnergy and NorthWestern Energy

“The industry is evolving and people realize we have to behave differently …The old tradition of the same band of people serving on 30 boards, repeating the same decisions, is being busted up.”

EY - Women in power and utilities
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As part of our index of women in power and utilities, we talked to Julia Johnson about gender diversity in the sector.

I founded WEIPF in 2010 to accelerate relationship building and the exchange of ideas in the energy sector. Our members have diverse interests – they are C-Suite or next in line for leadership, regulators, consumer advocates. We are not all naturally “on the same side”. But we speak a common language – and we speak it to each other, not at each other. We listen, problem-solve, and feed that unique energy back into the Emerging Issues Policy Forum (EIPF) and our own businesses.

As a board member of two big US utilities, I see how distributed generation (DG) and technology advances will turn this sector upside down. Innovation and customers are valued in a way they haven’t been before. We need technology innovators that understand the opportunities and security implications of free-flowing information. We need retail innovators who understand digital engagement and customer choice. These skills don’t typically reside in utilities and this could open up big opportunities, particularly for women.

The results of EY’s research surprised me. I had hoped for better. On the positive side, I see increasing acceptance of the benefits of diversity; it’s becoming part of people’s DNA. At one board meeting, a member rejected an applicant because they were "just more of the same".

Boards know they need to reflect the people that they service, and institutional investors are demanding greater diversity. Some boards limit the number of years members can serve, creating space for fresh thinking. We don’t have quotas in the US. I'm not concerned with why people appoint me to a Board. Put me in the briar patch: if it's needed, let's get it done.

Power and utilities executives understand they don't have all the answers. They’re learning a greater respect for different points of view: they know they need to ask new questions and think differently. 

I’ve been lucky to have strong female and male mentors. They didn’t care about my gender, race or age; they thought I deserved to progress. One encouraged me to go into government service, where I was appointed to a Public Service Commission that regulated a US$12b industry. I was in front of CEOs as a chief regulator at the age of 29, interacting with people that otherwise might never have noticed me.

In my career, it’s been an advantage to come from a different industry, not to be shackled by the past. I've never been constrained by what has been; I'm more interested in what will be.

Read related articles from the Index of women in power and utilities.

Don’t ignore the evidence: more women in the boardroom = better business performance Can you hear me? Only 4% of board executives of global 100 P&U companies are female The top 20: Duke, Sempra and Eskom head the list for gender diversity P&U is transforming: why yesterday’s business models won’t work anymore
EY - Don't ignore the evidence EY - Can you hear me? EY - The top 20 EY - P&U is transforming